One can learn a lot from the transcripts of President Trump's phone calls with Enrique Peña Nieto and Malcolm Turnbull, which were leaked and published in The Washington Post on Thursday. For one thing, it's evident that Trump did not prepare much for these discussions. But in neglecting to research the most basic questions ahead of time, he ended up just asking some, and in particular forcing Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to explain his country's controversial migrant policy.
“What is the thing with the boats?” the president says to the prime minister. Trump, who went into many calls early in his presidency without briefings from the State Department, comes in with little prior knowledge of Australia's long-standing policy of intercepting migrants who come illegally by boat and housing them in offshore processing centers.
But he gets Turnbull to spell out in simple terms what exactly is the thing with the boats.
Australia’s offshore migrant facilities have become a political millstone around the prime minister’s neck. The government is working to close its “processing center” on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, where the supreme court has ruled it unconstitutional amid persistent reports of human rights violations. The Australian government is technically not forcing migrants to stay—it has offered cash rewards to individuals willing to go back to their home countries—but it needs to offer powerful incentives to people desperate enough to risk trying to reach Australia by sea.